In these two books, just about everything that can go wrong in relationships is going wrong. I have to admit, I find myself getting drawn more and more into the action. This is as dramatic and steamy as Victorian literature gets!
Casaubon does everyone a favor by dying, thankfully before Dorothea can promise to waste her life by continuing work on his futile academic project. But alas—Casaubon, the jealous, shriveled raisin, has inserted a codicil into his will stating that if Dorothea ever marries his cousin Ladislaw, she must forfeit her inheritance. This final act is the ultimate expression of Casaubon's selfishness. It's not enough that he was incapable of warming to Dorothea as a husband; he must also make sure she receives no love or affection after his death. The beautiful irony is that the codicil in fact serves to draw Dorothea's attention to Ladislaw, and their eventual union seems inevitable. It's as if Casaubon shines a spotlight directly onto Ladislaw's head and yells, “Don't look at this guy!” Well done, buddy, well done.
Hapless Fred Vincy is still struggling to woo Mary Garth, against basically everyone's wishes, including Mary's. I've really enjoyed this storyline—there's something appealing about the combination of Fred's blind optimism and Mary's grounded practicality. Even as I'm frustrated by it, I relate to Fred's hemming and hawing over his occupation, and appreciate Mary's steadfast insistence that he not enter the clergy just to earn a living and please his father. I have to agree with Fred when he says it doesn't make much sense for someone to choose their future career path at the age of fifteen or sixteen. At fifteen, I was more concerned with making sure my bangs stayed curled all day than analyzing job prospects, and I couldn't fathom someday reaching the age of 30, much less retirement. I would never trust momentous decisions to my fifteen-year-old self. And that's why it's so important to talk to teens about birth control.
Just as it did earlier in the novel when he made bad business dealings and lost the Garths' money, Fred's cluelessness has a cost. I had to feel bad for Farebrother when Fred asks him to talk to Mary on his behalf. Of course, Fred has no idea that Farebrother is interested in Mary himself. Farebrother is so generous and accustomed to disappointment that he agrees to approach Mary, knowing it signals the end of his chances with her. I thought this situation was an excellent example of Eliot's awareness of the complexity of romantic relationships—both Fred and Farebrother are good in their own way, and each could conceivably provide Mary with a happy life. This isn't a simple case of the good man winning over the bad, or vice versa.
Then there's Lydgate and Rosamond, who seem to grow more ill-suited each time they rotate into the plot. Most telling is Rosamond's statement that she wishes Lydgate had gone into a field other than medicine. Lydgate marks this with sadness, as he knows Rosamond may as well have said she wishes he were a different person. His studies in the medical field make up such a profound part of his identity that they can't be separated from the rest of him. Rosamond, however, is blind to this elemental truth of her husband's nature, and sees only her own disappointment at not having married a man as interested in social climbing as herself. Rebecca Mead mentions that Eliot, though an extremely sympathetic writer with a goal of making all her characters in some small way relatable, struggles to portray Rosamond in anything but an unflattering light. I, for one, can't blame her a bit—I too carry a special disdain for pretty, petite blond women who get lots of admiring attention but have little intellect or character to merit it. Rosamond is at heart a shallow, catty snob, as she proves when smugly informing Ladislaw of the secret codicil in Casaubon's will.
And finally, there is something immensely satisfying in Bulstrode's exposure as a hypocrite and thief. The hulking, lurking Mr. Raffles is a delightful villain, swaggering into Middlemarch with a false cheer that is off-putting to everyone. We can't mistake that his presence will bring only doom. The revelation that Ladislaw is the rightful heir of Bulstrode's ill-gotten gains is a pleasing twist, and his heated rejection of the money firmly establishes him as a genuinely good man. He is in direct contrast with Bulstrode, who has worked hard for years to cultivate a particular image of himself, which despite those efforts proves to be nothing more than a flimsy facade. Eliot seems to believe that public opinion matters less than the true stuff of a person, an idea I can get behind wholeheartedly.
Favorite quotes from this section:
Rosamond, on her need for an audience for her beauty: “What is the use of being exquisite if you are not seen by the best judges?” (Ch. 43)
Criticism of Lydgate's interest in autopsies: “A poor tale for a doctor, who if he was good for anything should know what was the matter with you before you died, and not want to pry into your inside after you were gone.” (Ch. 45)
Criticism of Lydgate's efforts to bring new methods into the medical community: “I say, the most ungentlemanly trick a man can be guilty of is to come among the members of his profession with innovations which are a libel on their time-honored procedure.” (Ch. 45)
“But to most mortals there is a stupidity which is unendurable and a stupidity which is altogether acceptable—else, indeed, what would become of social bonds?” (Ch. 58)
Comments are open below. How is the book going for you? What have you enjoyed? What have you struggled with? What are some ways you've maintained stamina in reading this long book? Which couple do you enjoy reading about the most? What do you hope will be the outcome for various characters? How much do you despise Rosamond and her stupid face?